If the recently finished next stage in the tour of Wexford was to have a soundtrack, it would be this ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ef9QnZVpVd8 ). I know Mick is warbling on about drugs but this swim was the first where I didn’t complete what I set out to do “what I wanted”.
Realising that it is becoming less and less viable to disappear regularly for 12 hours to go and swim in the sunny south-east, I resolved to try and do less swims of greater distances. This moved the schedule around a bit and made the summer a bit less onerous on the family. To that end, this swim was to change from a 6.5 Km swim from Tinnaberna to Ballinaconnigar, to a 10 and a half jaunt to Ballinesker.
The weather outlook was hit and miss from seven days out and it didn’t change much on Windguru as the day approached. The prediction was that on the morning of the swim it would be cloudy with a moderate southerly wind but when I aimed to start swimming the wind would drop to below 10 knots and the air temperature would rise over 10 degrees. This 10 degree metric whas where Windguru changes from a blue to a golden star. In truth, I had studied the chart to know that the actual air temperature is actually up to 5 degrees warmer than the “guru’s” pessimism. The wind direction and speeds isn’t though and this meant I was likely going to be up against it today.
In consultation with the campaign director, Niall, by sending him a screen grab of the forecast asking him his opinion. His response was “Might be OK for a while, but for 90+ minutes might not be fun”. In retrospect, never a truer word!
Still with my head full of ambition I drove to Ballinesker in just over 2 hours. One of my concerns is how I would recognise the finish given the eternal dunes and cliffs of Wexford. As luck would have it there was a shiny lifeguard container demarking the finish line and this set me in a good mood, despite the fact the rain was just about holding off and the skies were grey. My sums told me an hour for the cycle and a max of four hours would be needed for the swim, so at 12 noon just before I set off I tried to ring headquarters in Dublin to say I would ring by 5pm. Unfortunately they didn’t pick up so I sent a text and a whatsapp, waiting for confirmation that they had been delivered.
The bike ride was tough and on unfamiliar road. Given the geography, I knew I would be taking a different turn down to the start than the previous day and I thought I was prepared with a barebones Googlemaps printout. Unfortunately it was more Paris-Dakar than Google Street view. I ended up calling to two different houses on the way to try and confirm the current turn off the main road. I think I managed to carry it off quite well by not drawing attention to the fact that I was in these nice people’s driveways in a wetsuit on a bike.
Eventually at Tinnaberna, the sun had finally come out. I felt a strong southerly breeze on my face. I thought “Oh no” for a moment before I told myself the familiar message that I was here now and just had to get on with it. I hoped that the prophecy of dropping wind speeds at lunch time would come true. Getting into the water, I was now being confronted with a sand bank. I had seen a few in recent swims but this one was twenty meters out and rose to bring the depth less than a foot. I knew I had to swim outside this bank but had no idea what to expect in terms of its impact. I started swimming.
I swam for 5 minutes in part as a warm up and in part to gauge progress and measure the current. It wasn’t good and I then knew despite my hopes, I was definitely up against it today. I knew enough though at this stage that this was business and there was no room for getting despondent or depressed about it. Thankfully the sun shone brightly even though Windguru had predicted a depression of grey. This helped a lot in my psychology and now I understand why so many Americans retire in Florida (not that it wasn’t obvious anyway).
As I continued I was constantly being brought in by the waves onto the sand banks. Again I didn’t let it get to me. The cliffs were impressive but I was too focused on the challenge to appreciate the view. There were very few people out walking today, probably because it was early Tuesday afternoon so there was no embarrassment in the repetitive standing up and wading back out. At the hour mark I surveyed my progress and I could see Tinnaberna was gone from view but the planned stop over at Ballinaconnigar was indecipherable. I was counting strokes and this took my mind off things successfully. It dawned on me that 200 strokes was a nice quantity. It was both a finite and quantifiable number and one would think also was a distance of note.
I was checking the watch regularly and while my mood wasn’t bad, I was constantly being reminded that I wasn’t moving at great speed. Knowing that Ballinaconnigar was at 6 KM and there was a distinctive sea wall there according to Google, at the ninety minute mark I decided I had earned a pit stop. One thing I forgot to mention is that I had been wearing gloves for this first part and now my arms were tired. Without any basis I had decided that I was likely at the 5 KM mark and still on track for the 5 pm call. It was now 3pm.
It was a bit cold on the beach but the sun was nice, and I had timed it right as I could see there was only fifteen more minutes of sunshine. I had a chocolate bar, some fresh water and a scan of my map printout. Whatever little the map showed me of the roads, its information on the coastline was non existent. Instead of worrying about where I was or wasn’t, I sat in the sun and rested.
The gloves were off now and safely packed in the tow float. Maybe I would be significantly faster without them and that the scheduled Ballinaconnigar would come around soon enough, closely followed by Ballinesker. The sea was starting to get a little choppier and my arms were getting unmercifully tired. Cognisant of the fact that my bare hands didn’t feel in anyway cold, I knew I had been too cautious with wearing the gloves in the first place. It was too late for regrets, the lesson was learnt. Still and all, I wasn’t gaining much ground quickly.
The waves were staring to toss me around quite forcefully and I was then very aware of Niall’s thoughts on it not being fun. I could see the cliffs descend into a more flatter dune vista up ahead but then I could see the forest just south of Curracloe and knew Ballinesker was a long way away. I checked my watch and it was now 4 o clock. Matter of factly I then knew there was no way I was going to swim to Ballinesker in time for a 5pm call. I was realising I was going to have to make decisions. I could barely lift my arms over the water.
At 4:15 pm another wave crashed me up onto a sand bank and without any consideration, I decided there and then that I need to get out. As I stood up on the rocky bed I finally saw the rock wall of Ballinaconnigar less than thirty meters away. Instant;y I knew I had made the right decision. I knew there was another 4 km and only 45 minutes. That would need a world record!
I climbed over the rocks and around to the beach to the other side, deciding I wont think about the ramifications now. Now my aim was to get the 4 km walking distance done by 5. As I walked I had a chill but it wasn’t too bad. I was aware that I wasn’t going to have that feeling of success I normally finished with, but I had no choice. At 5pm I was still walking and I was then beginning to worry than in the absence of the rendez-vous call, the coast guard would get called out.
I finally got back to the car park with its sundry of evening strollers coming and going. It was beginning to rain again but the mood was now one of pragmatism. I would have to return to Ballinaconnigar which was the original plan before I got adventurous, but this was an eye opener to the future. What would happen in a place like west Cork where there wouldn’t be the logistical safety net of eternal beach to the finish?
I rang the boss at 5:17, she picked up and greeted me with a happy disposition wondering how the swim went. I knew not to give out as I was just relieved that she wasn’t worried. I thought then that I had still been on the move for the guts of five hours so I couldn’t in all honesty think of it as a failure.
Thank you for reading this blog. If you feel inclined to contribute to the cause, please click on this link : https://gofund.me/3bc9e9cb
And as ever a big Thank You to everyone who has contributed thus far. My friend who wished to remain private about her plight has had a successful treatment of immunology and is making a fantastic recovery.